Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category

3 At-Home Balance and Strength Exercises for Seniors

Stretches

 

My Great Uncle Bud used to always say, “It’s hell to get old.” He griped incessantly about his loss of strength, poor balance, and frequent trips to the hospital from falls. Yet his experience, that of an elderly person in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, was far different from today’s seniors. We know now that a body can be rebuilt at any age, and that most of the physical problems seniors experience are the result of inactivity.

Why does the body break down during inactivity? It’s a process known as the Use-Disuse Principle. In a nutshell, it means that the body will only hold onto the parts of itself that are frequently used. If a certain muscle group isn’t used for a long time, the body will discard those muscles to use the energy that would have been consumed by them elsewhere. So the cliché “Use it or lose it” is ultimately true.

Over the years, I have worked with a number of seniors who began a fitness journey at their doctor’s recommendation. Most had never exercised a day in their life, and preliminary fitness tests revealed severe muscular deficiencies. The majority could not easily perform simple movements such as sitting and standing. In light of this, most of the traditional gym equipment was off-limits until these older adults could regain some basic strength and stability. To help them get started, I created three at-home exercises to include in their daily routines.

The following three very basic exercises are designed to help seniors who have never participated in fitness programs, or who haven’t exercised in a while, to improve the strength and balance in their legs, core, and shoulders before using a gym. If the following exercises are performed every day for about a month, the risk of injury and overtraining when starting a more intense fitness routine—such as one designed by a personal trainer—will fall substantially. None of these exercises require any extra equipment.

The Toothbrush Challenge

Dentists recommend brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes each session. This amounts to four minutes of nothing other than standing in front of a mirror and staring at ourselves. The Toothbrush Challenge makes use of this time to do a very basic strength and balance exercise that can help restore a senior’s stability fairly quickly.

While brushing your teeth, set a timer for one minute. During that minute stand only on one leg, with the knee slightly flexed (DO NOT LOCK OUT THE KNEE), and hold that position. Be sure to perform this exercise in a place where you can catch yourself in case you lose your balance. Once the first minute is up, set the timer again and repeat the exercise with the other leg.

The first few times you perform this exercise, you probably won’t last the entire minute. What’s important is that you try to keep balancing until the end of the minute. If your other foot touches the ground, reset and keep holding. Do this exercise every time you brush your teeth. After the first week, you should feel a marked improvement in your ability to balance and hold yourself on one leg. After one month, your legs will be far stronger and stable, and from there you can attempt other exercises at a gym.

The Textbook Toss-up

Shoulder injuries are a common complaint among seniors. The slightest tweak from overreaching for something in the back of the cupboard, or even from sleeping in an awkward position, can drastically hinder your quality of life. Weak shoulders are also prone to injury when exercising at a gym, so it’s a good idea to strengthen those muscles in a low-risk manner. The Text Book Toss-up is a great way to accomplish this.

Set a timer for one minute. Using a book about the size of a standard bible, grasp the sides firmly with both hands and extend your arms straight out ahead of you. Without bending your elbows, slowly lift the book above your head until you reach 90 degrees, then return to the starting position. Once returned to the starting position, bend your elbows and slowly bring the book to your chest. From there, extend back out to the starting position. Without dropping the book, repeat these two movements in sequence until the timer runs out.

The first few times you do this, you’ll feel a deep burn in your shoulders. Only perform three repetitions of the exercise at first and see how you feel the next day. Over time, assuming you do this every day, you should grow strong enough to begin setting the timer to two or even three minutes. If you’re really feeling strong, swap out a book for something heavier, like an encyclopedia, textbook, or atlas.

The Restless Leg (Abs Workout)

The abdominal muscles are crucial to good balance. As such, it’s important to strengthen them, but many seniors may struggle with traditional floor exercises such as ab crunches. To solve this problem, I created the Restless Leg Abs Workout. It’s designed to allow seniors to strengthen their abs and legs in a single movement, all from the comfort of their own bed.

Lying in bed, place your hands underneath the small of your back and stretch your legs out as straight as possible. Make a mental note to flex (or suck in) your stomach muscles and hold them that way. Raise one leg up without bending the knee and hold it for one minute in that position. At the end of the minute, reset the timer and repeat with the other leg. Do this three times with each leg.

The key to this exercise is to keep the stomach muscles engaged throughout. This means keeping your stomach sucked in while holding one leg off the bed. Again, over time this will become easier for you, and as you improve you may move on to more challenging and strenuous exercises.

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Christophe Adrien, also known as The Viking Trainer, is a Certified Fitness Trainer (CFT) and Certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition (SFN) with a Master’s Degree from Oregon State University. He is a lifelong health and fitness enthusiast who regularly contributes to publications such as 1-800-HOMECARE™1-800-HOSPICE™ and Baby Boomer Cafe, among others.

 

10 Steps to Communicate Your End-of-Life Wishes

ToughConvo

 

Communicating your end-of-life wishes is often among the most difficult conversations you can have with your family and loved ones. It’s also a conversation that many avoid until it’s too late.

The importance of clearly laying out your end-of-life preferences cannot be overstated, however. And doing so before you a suffer a life-threatening illness or other crisis will help reduce anxiety and doubt for family members who may be confused about final wishes that haven’t been clearly expressed.

Perhaps the most important question when it comes to communicating end-of-life wishes is, “how to do it?” Fortunately, there are a variety of steps you can take and proven methods that should make the process easier for you and your family. Getting started now, before it’s too late, should be a priority.

  1. Plan ahead

There’s no time like the present when it comes to letting your loved ones know about your final wishes is now. You can start by drawing up a living will that states your treatment and care preferences if you should ever be in a position where you can’t speak for yourself.

It’s also important to have a durable power of attorney in place that appoints one family member or other trusted person to make medical decisions for you in the event you’re unable to do so. Take all the time you need to reflect on what’s most important to you, then get the paperwork started.

  1. Be clear about what you want

It’s not easy to think about becoming too ill to make healthcare and other important decisions. But a critical injury or debilitating illness can happen to anyone at any time, and it’s vital to be clear about your wishes as soon as you can in case the unthinkable happens to you.

  1. Finding the right opportunities

While finding the right time to talk about your end-of-life issues can be a challenge, here are some events that can present opportunities to sit down with family and loved ones:

*Gatherings or time spent related to milestones such as the birth of a child, marriage, death of a loved one, retirement, anniversaries, etc.

*During holiday gatherings when many family members may be present.

*When creating your will or other estate planning.

*When a major illness requires that you or another family member move out of the home and into a long-term care setting – such as an assisted living community or a nursing home – or when a friend or family member is facing a serious illness or end-of-life situation.

  1. Talk often

It’s important to have end-of-life conversations early and to ensure that everyone understands your wishes. Moreover, your preferences may change over time and create the need for regular discussions on the subject.

  1. Ask permission

Again, discussing end-of-life issues isn’t necessarily easy, and it may make some of your family members uncomfortable. Asking your loved ones for permission before diving into the topic reassures them that you respect and honor everyone’s desires.

  1. Keep the purpose in mind

Your conversations with loved ones should address two important goals: making sure that your financial and healthcare wishes are expressed and honored, and providing them with the information and confidence they need to make future decisions.

  1. Find an Appropriate Setting

Find a quiet, comfortable place to have discussions about end-of-life wishes – preferably somewhere private and without distractions. A noisy restaurant or other public places is probably not the right setting to broach this tough topic.

  1. Be a good listener

Whether you’re discussing your end-of-life wishes, listening to another family member express theirs, or getting feedback from family and friends, it’s important to listen carefully. Make every effort to hear and understand what your loved ones are saying, and make clear to them that it’s important to you. If you’re listening to someone else,express their wishes, try to reaffirm what they’re saying and acknowledge their right to make life choices, even if you disagree with them.

  1. Know your audience

Some loved ones and family members may want to discuss end-of-life wishes in private rather than in a group setting. Use your knowledge of the people involved to figure out the best way express your wishes.

  1. Let others set the pace

If you’re in the role of listening to a family member express their wishes, follow their lead. Avoid correcting the person or becoming argumentative if they say something you don’t agree with.

Growing Number of Seniors Using Marijuana

Close-up of doctor holding a bag of medical marijuana

 

Anita Mataraso began using marijuana therapeutically 25 years ago to ease the physical discomfort and other symptoms of Lyme disease. The disease left her with side effects, including nerve damage and fibromyalgia that she had trouble treating with conventional medications.

Though at the time she wasn’t aware of the medical applications of marijuana, Mataraso knew that it was one of the few things that made her symptoms feel better. “When I smoked, I was able to escape the pain in my body for a couple hours, and it was very helpful to me in that regard,” she says.

More than two decades later, Mataraso is now the director of the Rossmoor Medical Marijuana Education and Support Club at the Rossmoor senior community in Walnut Creek, Calif. She now finds herself at the forefront of a growing trend of seniors turning to medical marijuana for recreational and especially therapeutic purposes. The club has grown from 20 members just five years ago to a roster of 500 people. “Our mission is to educate people about cannabis and how it may impact their lives, particularly in terms of senior issues,” says Mataraso.

A National Trend

Statistics suggest that the membership growth Mataraso has seen at Rossmoor reflects a national trend. The prevalence of past-year cannabis use among adults age 50 or older rose significantly between 2006 and 2013, increasing 57.8 percent for adults age 50–64 and a whopping 250 percent for those 65 and older, according to a study released by the National Institutes of Health.

Meanwhile, public opinion on the legalization of marijuana has shifted dramatically over the years. As of October 2016, 57 percent of Americans say that marijuana use should be legal, while 37 percent say it should be illegal, according to a Pew Research Center Survey. A decade ago, popular opinion was nearly the reverse: 60 percent opposed legalization and just 32 percent were in favor.

As opinions change, so does the perceived stigma surrounding pot use.

“Probably the single most motivating factor changing the way people think of marijuana is that, in many jurisdictions, the regulated use of marijuana by qualified patients or any adult has shifted from illegal activity to legal activity,” says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, or NORML, an organization that seeks to legalize responsible marijuana use among adults. “Many seniors who in the past were ineligible to use marijuana or who were violating the law are now able to do so,” he explains.

Why Marijuana Use is Growing

Armentano cites two other reasons for the increase in pot use among seniors: a growing awareness of the perceived therapeutic applications of the drug and the fact that many baby boomers are resuming marijuana use after many decades as they retire and their children are grown.

“This is a population that, in many cases, has some past firsthand experience with cannabis,” he says. “But the majority of adults ceased their use because they entered the workforce at 20 or 30 and had kids. Now that the children are grown up, and the folks are retired, they’re returning to the use of a substance they once enjoyed.”

A number of states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and as of November 2016, four states had legalized recreational marijuana use for adults. Yet federal law, through the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, continues to list it as a Schedule 1 drug—in the same category as heroin.

Officially, the federal government finds that marijuana has no medicinal value, and research on the therapeutic properties of the drug has been limited in the U.S.

Even so, research and anecdotal evidence points to marijuana being a potentially useful treatment for many common medical conditions that seniors grapple with, including chronic pain.

“There is also an awareness that many conventional medications that are prescribed possess a litany of significant and adverse side effects, and many older adults are making a calculation that they can substitute therapeutic cannabis for some of their other medication,” says Armentano.

Cheryl Shuman, founder of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club and the founder of marijuana activist group Moms for Marijuana International, has noticed an uptick in demand from seniors for products they can use therapeutically, so much so that she plans to roll out a line of products designed specially for seniors. “Seniors more than any other group can benefit the most because when you consider the fact that many of them have glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, dementia, pain—and marijuana works,” she says.

Shuman began using therapeutic marijuana after receiving a diagnosis of ovarian cancer at age 47. She was visiting her elderly parents at the time and was rushed into emergency surgery. Her prognosis was not good, and doctors advised her to consider hospice care.

After receiving her diagnosis, Shuman reconnected with a high school friend who suggested she try marijuana with a high level of cannabidiol (CBD), which is not psychoactive and is reported to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. “By month two, not only was I walking and doing light exercise, I was showering on my own again, working on computer and doing yoga,” she says. “Within 90 days, I was in full remission and able to go back to work full-time.”

At first, Shuman’s parents were skeptical of the effectiveness of marijuana and wary of its illegality. They even refused to allow her into their home. But after seeing the success their daughter had using the drug, their views changed. “It went from my parents not allowing me in the house to my mom calling me everyday and asking about my progress,” she says. “My mom even asked if I thought it could work for her.”

Trend Expected to Grow

The legal strides marijuana legislation has made have made it much easier for people to explore and discuss their use of the drug. And though some stigma and stereotypes surrounding pot remain among seniors, Armentano says he expects the trend toward greater acceptance and use to stay. “Support is only going to grow in the future,” he says, pointing out that younger generations are even more supportive of pot use than seniors and baby boomers.

Mataraso agrees. “The trend will continue and the research and the science is going to knock out the [misinformation] that’s been going around all these years,” she says.

 

 

 

10 Great Things About Getting Older

The senior years, like all stages of life, have their challenges. But aging also comes with its fair share of benefits. Here are 10 great things about getting older.

 

1. Wisdom Comes with Age

Portrait of senior man sitting looking off to side

 

With age comes wisdom, and it’s not just because older adults have more life experience to draw on than younger generations. As the body ages, it produces fewer hormones. Lower levels of estrogen, testosterone and adrenaline make it easier to make rational, rather than emotional, decisions.

 

2. Seniors Report Being Happier

Three Asian seniors smiling in a park

 

Research suggests that seniors are the happiest generation. In a 2008 University of Chicago study, adults who were 57 or older reported a higher level of contentment than younger respondents, and many said they were pleased with how their life turned out.

 

3. Seniors Often Pay Less

Portrait of elderly man and his wife with latop and plastic card looking at camera

 

Many organizations offer senior discounts, which is a nice way of showing appreciation for the elderly. Although some senior discounts may seem small, with so many companies offering them, these price reductions can add up to significant savings.

 

4. Others’ Opinions Matter Less

Joyful senior man riding a skateboard

 

While you probably value the opinions of close family members or friends, many older adults say they stop caring as much about what acquaintances or strangers think of them. Chances are, you’ll feel more comfortable sharing your thoughts as an older adult than you may have in years past.

 

5. Getting Older Brings Fewer Major Decisions

Senior man sleeping in hammock, side view

 

By the time you reach your senior years, you’ll probably have already made most of the major decisions in life. All of the questions you faced as a younger adult — what career to pursue, whom to marry, whether and when to have children — are mostly behind you. Not having to figure out these major life questions can mean less stress overall.

 

6. With More Years Come More Hours in the Day

Senior gardener with a spade

 

Retirement and old age tend to bring a blessing that most people don’t enjoy from the time they start kindergarten: more time. Retired seniors have more time to spend with the people they cherish and take part in the activities they love.

 

7. Grandchildren Are a Blessing

GrandmaGrandson

 

If children are a blessing, grandchildren are a double blessing. Grandparents typically enjoy spending time with their progeny, while being able to send them home when visits are over. Many seniors who don’t have grandchildren even choose to invest in kids by volunteering or being involved in other younger relatives’ lives.

 

8. A Second Chance

Teacher with tablet and students at an adult education class

 

As George Eliot once wrote, “It’s never too late to be what you might have become.” With the time that retirement provides, seniors have a second chance to be whatever they want to be. It’s a rare opportunity to invest a lot of time in a project or cause, or to learn something new.

 

9. Government Programs for Seniors

doctor with tonometer and senior woman at hospital

 

Not all seniors are independently wealthy, but all qualify for Social Security and Medicare. These government programs provide at least some guaranteed financial provision and health insurance for seniors.

 

10. More Opportunities to Give Back

Happy volunteer grandmother smiling at camera

 

The senior years provide plenty of opportunities to give to others. With more time, greater wisdom and in some cases more disposable income, there are many ways older adults can give back. Whether passing on a family heirloom, imparting advice or volunteering with a local organization, giving is one of the most rewarding things you can do in your golden years.

Contrary to popular belief, getting older has many benefits. If you’re approaching your senior years, there’s no need to view them with dread. Instead, why not embrace this time for the many advantages that come along with it?

 

6 Smart Strategies to Protect Your Aging Loved One from Falls

ManWithCane

 

Falling is a major health issue for seniors – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that some 2.8 million people 65 and older in the U.S. receive emergency medical treatment for fall-related injuries each year. And unlike for younger adults, falls can spell serious health consequences for seniors. Indeed, broken hips and serious head injuries are not uncommon results, which can be debilitating and necessitate ongoing rehabilitative care.

In honor of National Falls Prevention Day, we’re highlighting some of the best strategies to help keep your aging loved ones safe and avoid falls.

1. Emphasize Exercise

Perhaps the most important thing an older adult can do to lower their risk of falling is to get regular exercise. Exercise can help improve strength, balance and flexibility, all of which can help a senior avoid falling. It can also help your aging loved one keep their weight in check, which means less pressure on bones and joints, another factor that can affect the likelihood of falls.

Your loved one’s doctor can check to make sure that he or she is healthy enough to start exercising and recommend some activities to start with.

2. Fall-proof Their Home

When it comes to fall prevention, one of the first places to start is by evaluating the person’s surroundings and making modifications where needed. Whether your loved one lives in their own house, with you and your family or in a senior living facility, there are a number of measures you can take to make the home safer.

Some key fall-proofing moves include:

  • Ridding the home of tripping hazards like loose rugs, electrical cords, or clutter on the floor
  • Having grab bars in the shower and raised toilet seats installed
  • Placing no-skid mats in the shower and
  • Installing railings along hallways and stairways
  • Making sure there is a ramp or other easy access-way to the home’s entrances
  • Ensuring there is proper lighting and easily accessible light switches throughout the home

3. Re-evaluate Medications

Another important step is to determine whether any medications your loved one takes have side effects or interactions that may raise their odds of falling. Sedatives, tranquilizers and antidepressants are common examples of medications that may affect an older adult’s balance.

Talk to your loved one’s doctor or pharmacist to gauge whether any of the medicines they’re taking (both prescription and over-the-counter) fall under this category, and discuss potential alternatives that don’t carry the same risks.

4. Monitor Vision Health

If an older adult has trouble seeing where they’re going or spotting obstacles in their path, he or she is more likely to suffer a fall.

Older eyes receive less light to the retina, making it tougher to catch these hazards. But while age-related vision issues are to be expected, making sure your loved one is up to date with eye check-ups and that they have the proper corrective eyewear can go a long way toward helping them avoid falls.

If he or she suffers from low vision, consider consulting a low vision eye care specialist about ways to avoid falls.

 5. Check for Unhappy Feet

Similar to vision health, having healthy, pain-free feet is another big factor in preventing falls. Aging feet typically have less cushioning and are more likely to swell or have toe deformities due to muscle imbalance. All of these factors can make walking more painful and can mess with a senior’s balance.

A health care professional can recommend toe and foot exercises to help boost range of motion and prevent deformities. Additionally, properly fitted footwear can make falls less likely, and shoe inserts can help keep the foot cushioned to ease any pain your love done may experience while walking.

 6. Consider Assistive Devices

If you notice that your elderly loved one seems to walk unsteadily or if he or she needs help getting around, chances are they’ll benefit from an assistive device such as a walker or cane. Make sure that they meet with a doctor, physical therapist or occupational therapist who can help them find the right device for them.

While your loved one may initially resist the idea of using a walker or cane if they’ve never needed one before, these devices can actually help boost their confidence and independence.

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A number of risk factors can contribute to whether an older adult will suffer a fall, so the fewer risk factors your aging loved one has, the safer he or she will be. Though common among seniors, falls are not inevitable. Helping your loved one take the proper steps can make a difference in preventing falls and serious injuries and ensuring that their quality of life is the best it can be.

A Functional and Fashionable Kitchen for All Ages

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Although some people believe that fashion is sacrificed when functionality takes precedence, the opposite is true when it comes to a concept known as universal design. “Universal design” is a term that broadly refers to the idea that all design—products, technologies and structures—should serve the broadest range of people, regardless of ability, mobility, age, gender or physical stature, without adaptation or specialized features. Universal design is especially important when it comes to designing a kitchen. From appliances to counter height, a kitchen space should be created with the end user in mind.

When adding onto or redesigning a kitchen for older adults, it helps to remember the following principles, which are meant to ensure flexibility and to include simple and intuitive products and appliances.

  1. The kitchen’s design should make it equally usable by everyone. In other words, the way the kitchen is configured should never isolate or stigmatize any group of users or privilege one group over another.
  2. The kitchen should be designed so people can use its features in more than one prescribed way—for example, it might have a countertop orientation map that’s viewable from either a seated or standing position.
  3. The purpose of each feature in the kitchen should be easy for everyone to understand. All of the kitchen’s features should also be easy to use, without any hidden or confusing features.
  4. The kitchen should provide all essential information in more ways than one—written, symbolic, tactile and verbal—to make sure everyone who comes through it can understand how to use different features regardless of their abilities. This simply means that instructions should be visible or audible at all times.
  5. The design of the kitchen should eliminate, isolate or shield any design features that could be hazardous or inconvenient to any user. Hard or sharp edges, malfunctioning appliances or out-of-date materials should be removed from the space.
  6. The kitchen’s design should include features that require little or no physical strength to use.
  7. There should be enough space and appropriate arrangements in the kitchen so that anyone can use it.

Ideally, universal design means good design that can be used in any setting. With these points in mind, let’s explore ways to create a fashionable and functional kitchen for all ages.

 

General Considerations for a Fashionable and Functional Kitchen

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

First and foremost, the kitchen should be accessible to everyone. As the heart of the home, the kitchen is a place where families get together, where weekday date nights happen and midnight snacks are gathered. For older adults, a well-designed kitchen space is a big help in maintaining independence.

Start by making sure the flooring in your kitchen is flat and smooth. This is especially critical for adults who need wheelchairs, walkers or extra assistance in getting around. If you want to add an area rug, opt for a short-pile material over thicker, nubby textures that can cause snagging underfoot.

Next, choose convenient, stair-less parts of the kitchen to install appliances like ovens, stoves and refrigerators for easy accessibility. Everyone should be able to lend a helping hand when preparing family dinners, whether it’s grabbing eggs from the fridge or sliding cookies into the oven. Lastly, make sure your kitchen design offers plenty of accessible storage. Not only does storage reduce kitchen clutter, it also keeps work surfaces neat and clean, which helps avoid spills or accidents.

 

Elements of a Safe and Comfortable Kitchen

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

While universal design offers the basics for creating a safe kitchen space, the term doesn’t necessarily connote coziness. Here are some of our favorite ways to create a kitchen that satisfies safety measures as well as a comfortable space for all to enjoy:

  • If you don’t cook often, you won’t necessarily need a traditional kitchen island. Instead you could use a kitchen cart or mobile island. These can be rolled in if you need an extra work surface and move it out of the way when not in use to make the kitchen more open and accessible.
  • Use lighter colors to brighten the space. Lighter, brighter hues make your space look larger and more inviting while also allowing you to see every square inch clearly.
  • Install more floor cabinets and less overhead cabinetry. As we age, our agility and mobility wanes. When redesigning or renovating your kitchen, keep in mind cabinet height. Upper cabinets should be no more than 4 feet from the floor, as the lower height makes them easier to reach from a sitting or standing position.
  • Select countertops at varying heights to accommodate sitting and standing, especially for older adults. Give your future self and older loved ones a break by making sure your counter heights are optimized for working while standing and seated.

 

Comfortably Accessing Appliances

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Courtesy of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab

Last but certainly not least, making sure you can access your favorite kitchen appliances is essential to a kitchen remodel. One way to do this is by raising the dishwasher 8 inches above the floor to help facilitate loading and unloading. This is also great if you have nieces, nephews or grandchildren who come over often and need a helping hand in reaching the dishes.

If you’re doing a complete remodel, consider updating all of your appliances. Not only will brand new appliances enhance the look and feel of your space, they also help ensure easier access and use for everyone. Lastly, consider small appliances where appropriate. Smaller appliances that are lightweight and easy to grip mean more kitchen space to moving around in and a safer, sleeker overall look.

What are some changes you’re considering in your kitchen remodel? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks on designing a safe and comfortable space for all ages!

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Interior design specialist Kerrie Kelly heads up her own firm, Kerrie Kelly Design Lab, and is also a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS). Kerrie writes on design topics of interest to seniors and other age groups for Home Depot. To research kitchen utility tables as part of a senior-friendly kitchen plan, you can visit Home Depot’s website.

 

Small Space Gardening for Seniors

Gardening

As a longtime gardener, I just love the smell of potting soil in the warm sun. Add the scent of herbs, flowers and the taste of a fresh cherry tomato, and I’m in my happy place. It’s certainly something I don’t ever want to give up.

If you know a senior who’s loved to garden for decades, like I do, then I bet they’d be delighted to learn they don’t need to give it up as they age. They might not want to weed huge beds or handle heavy pots, but they can still get their hands in the dirt and grow fresh herbs, vegetables, flowers and other plants.

With an elevated flowerbed, it’s easier for older adults with back problems and other age-related ailments to do small space gardening. With an elevated bed, those who need to work either standing or seated can still plant, water and enjoy their garden.

Elevated garden beds provide a container deep enough for the soil to stay moist and allow for root growth. Many are on four legs so they’re at waist height. This allows those with hip, knee, back or balance problems to still dig in the dirt. The following are some tips on senior-friendly gardening.

Where to Place Your Bed

You don’t need a lot of room for raised flowerbed. If you have a small balcony or patio, you should be able to fit one in a space around four feet by two feet.

If you have eight or more hours of sunshine, you can grow herbs, veggies and flowers that enjoy the hot sun. If where you live gets less sunshine, stick to shade-loving flowers or even low-light houseplants.

Getting Started

Start with the basics: an elevated bed, good quality potting soil, time-release fertilizer, a watering can, a hand trowel and garden clippers for pruning. Choose small bags of soil so they’re easier to handle. Using a scoop or a big measuring cup for dipping and pouring soil into the container also helps.

Make sure the bed’s drain holes are open so excess water can drain. You can cover the holes with a small stone so the water can drain but the soil won’t clog the hole. Then fill the container with soil to within one or two inches from the top of the container. This allows room for water.

Choosing Plants

A garden doesn’t have to accommodate one type of plant or another. It can be delightful to mix flowers with vegetables and grow a few favorites of each. Here are some easy plants that do well in a small space:

  • Sunny Flowers: Zinnias, periwinkles, petunias and daylilies all love the sun, grow upright and are easy to care for. For plants that cascade over the side, try lantana, verbena or Million Bells petunias.
  • Shade-Loving Flowers: As long as your garden gets four or so hours of sun, you can still enjoy the bright blooms of shade-loving flowers. Heart-shaped caladiums, bright impatiens and begonias are good shade choices. For a cascading effect, plant ivy, vinca vine or lobelia.
  • Vegetables: Lettuce is an easy crop for a small space. It performs best in the spring or fall rather than under the summer heat. During the summer, lettuce can be replaced with a different plant. Cherry tomatoes or patio tomatoes grow in a container. You can also grow hot peppers, basil, green onions and pole beans, which will need a small trellis to climb on.
  • Herbs: Herbs love the sun so you’ll need around eight or more hours of it. They also love to grow in containers. Easy-to-grow herbs include chives, basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary.
  • American Home Shield’s guide to a low-maintenance vegetable garden is helpful for the laid-back gardener who wants to enjoy fresh produce without spending too much time outdoors.

Plant Care

  • The best way to track plant watering is to monitor rainfall and check the dirt for moisture. Then you can water as needed.
  • Feed the plants following the directions on the back of your time-release fertilizer.

Small space gardening gives added motivation to get outdoors in the fresh air and can be enjoyed by seniors with varying ability levels. Some older adults prefer to choose the plants, get their hands in the dirt and enjoy the planting process. There are others who are content to just water their garden and watch it grow. Either way, gardening can bring hours of enjoyment, quiet contemplation and a subject of conversation.


Lea Schneider has been a gardener for many years, and has also worked at a professional flower growing company. Lea writes about her gardening knowledge for Home Depot. For more small-space gardening ideas, including raised garden beds, you can visit Home Depot’s website here.

 

Granny Pods: A Senior Housing Option in Your Own Backyard

Mother and daughter sitting by garden shed

 

If your house isn’t big enough to accommodate your aging parent or if a senior living community is out of the question, an alternative known as a “granny pod” – a tiny house in your backyard — may be a solution worth considering.

“Most people try to fit a living space for an aging person in their home, but the issue that always comes up is how to make the living quarters from the rest of the family separate, since most adult children doing the caregiving also have children of their own,” says home accessibility consultant and architectural designer Michael Saunders, who works with Toronto-based families to adapt their homes for multi-generational living.

“What ends up happening a lot is that the space ends up being a basement apartment, which isn’t ideal,” Saunders adds.

Saunders says granny pods, also known as MEDCottages or guesthouses, are a useful and relatively low-cost solution that gives aging parents their own space while allowing adult children to easily provide necessary assistance.

Designed by a Blacksburg, Virginia-based company along with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the pre-fabricated, portable homes are typically installed in the caregiver’s backyard.

While the homes range in size, a typical granny pod is about 12 by 24 feet and includes a living space, kitchen and bathroom. Costing anywhere from $85,000 to $125,000, these homes tend to resemble a miniature bungalow from the outside with vinyl siding and double French doors that allow access for hospital beds and other necessary equipment. They also come stocked with medical supplies and safety features designed with aging adults in mind, such as the following.

  • Hand railings
  • Lighted floorboards
  • Soft floors
  • Defibrillators
  • First aid supplies
  • Video devices that inform caregivers and doctors about vital signs, among other important information.

To get all the necessary utilities, granny pods are hooked up to the main home’s existing sewer, water and power lines.

“The most common difficulty I find with granny pods is complying with a municipality’s zoning by-laws. As these are a relatively new phenomenon, they aren’t explicitly covered in most by-laws, and are thus more likely to fall under ‘accessory structures,’ which may or may not be permitted, and may or may not include habitable space,” Saunders notes.

Still, he says, it’s best to approach your city officials and let them know what your intentions are for the home. “Some people are afraid to go to their municipality, but if you explain that it’s for an aging parent and that you’re not putting a house on the property to rent it out, they’ll be willing to work with you,” he says.

Before making the purchase, Saunders advises considering whether your yard has enough space and if it’s flat enough to hold the structure. Climate also plays a role. “If it snows a lot, you’ll have to build a path to get the person out,” says Saunders.

Better Options?

Even with all that granny pods have to offer, some believe the cons outweigh the pros.

“Depending on the granny in question, a person’s needs can change profoundly very quickly. So while you might think ‘I’ll deck out this little cool prefab room and my parent could be happy here for years’ if you’re really lucky that could be the case. But if you’re like most of us as we age, a person’s condition doesn’t stay stable for any period of time and the likelihood that they’d outgrow the environment that you’ve created for them is high,” says Tracey Lawrence, founder of Grand Family Planning which helps families find solutions for aging parents.

Lawrence adds that tiny homes only provide the “where.” You’ll still need to consider access to caregivers, doctors, and medications for your loved one. And if you’re comparing the cost of a tiny home to typical assisted living or nursing home costs, she says the price of care encompasses much more than where you live.

“It’s about all the resources, such as meals, people who evaluate your loved one, physical therapists, activities that help to enhance the person’s quality of life,” she says. “You’ll have to have somebody who is going to come in and care for your loved one if it’s not you, and if it is you, how realistic is that?”

Lawrence draws on her personal experience of losing both her parents to dementia. Her father passed away within a year of being diagnosed, but her mother lived for several years, living on her own at first, then in assisted living, then with Lawrence and her husband.

“That worked out for a while until she had a psychotic break and we had to hire caregivers to come into my home and help manager her care. In time, living in my home was no longer practical because she was falling and I needed her to be watched more carefully 24/7… I finally settled in a group home which was a small setting that was equipped to handle her behaviors,” says Lawrence.

It’s important to remember that if at some point your loved one can no longer live in the granny pod or once he or she passes away, you’re left with the home, she notes.

“It’s an impractical use because I would imagine the value would go down significantly and for the next user it’d have to be reconfigured completely,” says Lawrence. “The only time I can see something like these having value is if you could lease the home and when your loved one no longer needs it, the granny pod is returned.”

 

How to Cope When Caring for a Difficult Loved One

DifficultDad

There’s no question that being a caregiver for a difficult loved one can have its stressful moments. When that person is a parent or another person close to use, your stress levels can easily rise as you deal with emotionally fraught situations you may never have anticipated. Plus, old age and poor health or disability aren’t likely to improve your loved one’s disposition.

The good news? There are many strategies to deal with a difficult aging loved one that can ease your stress while helping to guide them more smoothly through the activities of daily living. What follows are some practical tips to help you cope.

1. Put yourself first.
It seems counter-intuitive that putting your own needs first would be helpful in dealing with a difficult loved one. But it’s crucial that you don’t sacrifice your own sanity to provide care. Putting yourself first means delegating as many responsibilities as you can to others. Nurture your own relationships and friendships to maintain your own well being. The healthier you are, the better care you’ll be able to give your loved one.

2. Know your limitations.
This tip also relates to delegating responsibility, because caring for a difficult aging loved one can be extremely time-consuming. Trying to do everything by yourself is admirable, but certainly not practical. There’s nothing wrong with saying “no” when you need to. Knowing what you can and cannot handle effectively is important for your own health and your loved one’s health.

3. Don’t expect praise.
This is particularly important if you’re caring for someone with dementia. The cognitive impairment your loved one is experiencing may mean that he or she is no longer capable of appreciating your efforts. Instead, their behaviors may include hostility, accusations and suspicion – behaviors that they never exhibited before. It’s important to accept doing a good job for your own sake and because it’s the right thing to do, and not for your parent or loved one’s approval.

4. Try something different.
Take a closer look at the interactions that are consistently negative and decide if there are less stressful ways to spend time with your loved one. Find other activities, like reading a book together, asking him or her to talk about their past, or even creating a photo album together. If sitting together often results in an argument, then volunteer to do a cleaning project, or to cook a special meal.

5. Take breaks.
It’s easy to get so absorbed in caregiving, jobs and family obligations, and the stress of daily life, that you can forget how much time you’re putting in for others. Take time to nurture your spirit and soul in ways that ease your burden. You can take a peaceful walk by yourself, listen to soothing music, meditate, enjoy a hobby, or anything that helps you re-focus mentally.

6. Be proud of your efforts.
Sometimes your efforts will fail no matter what – and how hard – you try. Self-doubt can creep in, and it’s easy to feel guilty or get angry at the loved one who is being so difficult. But take pride in the knowledge that you continue to do what’s best for your loved one’s quality of life and that you’re doing it with a sincere heart. Admire your own bravery and persistence.

7. Bring in experts.
There are situations where bringing in a professional, such as a geriatric care manager, is necessary. You may not have family support, or the relationship has become too explosive and complicated. Whatever the case, a professional can provide support and advice, as well as coordinate care if you live far from your loved one.

8. Set boundaries.
Setting and maintaining boundaries is important for anyone in a caregiving role, and especially important if you’re dealing with a difficult loved one. Be clear about how much you can do (and are willing to do) and this will leave you less vulnerable to manipulative behavior and guilt trips. It’s not a bad idea to set boundaries about how much abusive behavior you’ll put up with, as well.

9. Communicate.
It’s important to discuss situations as soon they arise, when possible. Talking things through with your parent or loved one without getting defensive can make a world of difference. Try using “I” statements instead of accusations or “you” statements.

10. Understand their point of view.
A parent or loved one may feel frustrated with the role reversal in your relationship now that you’re taking care of them. This may make them uncomfortable and feel less like a parent and more like a helpless child. Change the dynamic to “How can I help?” which helps put the responsibility and decisions back on them.

These 7 Older Athletes Prove It’s Never Too Late to Be an Olympian

If you think getting older means an automatic end to dreams of athletic glory, think again. In the world of professional sports, athletes are considered “old” as early as 30. But throughout the history of the Olympic Games, there have been a number of amazing athletes who were far older than that when they set records and won medals. The competitors on this list remind us that there’s no age limit to being an Olympian and pursuing your dreams.

 

1. OSCAR SWAHN

  • Age: 72
  • Country: Sweden
  • Sport: Shooting

This sharp-shooting, bearded Swede was the oldest-ever male Olympic medalist when he won the silver medal at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium (this was after taking home gold and bronze medals in the 1908 and 1912 Olympic Games). He qualified for the 1924 games but withdrew beforehand due to illness.

 

2. ARTHUR VON PONGRACZ

    • Age: 72
    • Country: Austria
    • Sport: Equestrian Riding

Arthur Von Pongracz was one of the most celebrated equestrians of his time, and went on to compete in Dressage in the 1924, 1928 and 1936 Olympic Games. Born on June 25, 1864, the Austrian athlete was 72 years old when he competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Several months older than Oscar Swahn, he is the second-oldest athlete to have competed in the Olympics.

 

3. IAN MILLAR

Image by Grandslamjumping under the Creative Commons attribution license

    • Age: 65
    • Country: Canada
    • Sport: Equestrian

Nicknamed “Captain Canada,” the 69-year-old Canadian equestrian has competed in more Olympic Games than any Canadian in history, in any sport. He took home his first Olympic medal — a silver medal in Team Jumping — at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing at the age of 61. He plans to compete again in this summer’s games in Rio.

 

4. LORNA JOHNSTONE

    • Age: 69
    • Country: Great Britain
    • Sport: Equestrian

Lorna Johnstone is the oldest woman and the oldest-ever British competitor to have competed in the Olympics to date. The British equestrian competed in the 1956, and 1968 Olympics and was 69 years old when she competed in the 1972 Olympic Games.

 

5. GALEN SPENCER

    • Age: 64
    • Country: United States
    • Sport: Archery

This American archer brought home the gold medal at the 1904 Summer Olympics, competing on his 64th birthday! He was born September 19, 1840, and competed on September 19, 1904. He died exactly one month later.

 

6. LIDA “ELIZA” POLLOCK

    • Age: 63
    • Country: United States
    • Sport: Archery

Lida Pollock is the second oldest woman to have competed in the Olympics. The Ohio native won two bronze medals in Archery at the 1904 Games in St. Louis, just a couple months shy of her 64th birthday.

 

7. CARL AUGUST KRONLUND

  • Age: 58
  • Country: Sweden
  • Sport: Curling

At 58 years old, Swedish curler Carl Kronlund was the oldest male medalist and competitor in the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix, France. He took home the silver medal in curling.